The late Professor Sam Fehrsen (26 August 1938 – 22 May 2018) is the recipient of the Dr Humphrey Zokufa Lifetime Achievement Award for 2019 for the Titanium Award honoured at the recent 20th Annual BHF Southern African Conference which was held the Cape Town International Convention Centre.
This award recognises an individual who has made significant contribution to the healthcare. Prof Fehrsen’s sterling contribution to Family Medicine in South Africa, Southern Africa and Central Africa is unparalleled.
Prof Fehrsen planted the seeds of his vision for family medicine in Africa in 1977. He was the first head of the Department of Family Medicine at the former Medical University of Southern Africa (MEDUNSA, now referred to as the Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University). This tenure as HOD at MEDUNSA, from 1977 to 1996, was a time well spent. Prof Fehrsen spent these two decades patiently laying the solid foundations for the Family Medicine departments of many universities in sub-Saharan Africa.
Prof Fehrsen was a pathfinder. His pioneering work in sub-Saharan Africa led to the establishment of the very first Family Medicine postgraduate training programme in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. These efforts were soon replicated in Kenya. From then onwards nothing was to stand in the way of his vision spreading across the continent. In Medunsa Prof Fehrsen trained close to 200 family physicians hailing from Swaziland, Namibia, Lesotho, Zambia and Botswana.
In South Africa some of the products of the Family Medicine programme that Prof Fehrsen ran for 20 years subsequently became HOD of the same at Walter Sisulu University, University of KwaZulu-Natal, University of Limpopo, University of the Witwatersrand and the Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University.
If Prof Fehrsen’s contribution to medicine is unparalleled it is only because his humility and the force of his inherent humanity were unmatched. His pioneering spirit did not restrict him to only being a pillar of the African family medicine academy. His noble vision meant that he was at home among ordinary folk.
His contribution to rural health services saw him share the beauty of metaphors and proverbs with villagers in the remotest parts of the world. Prof Fehrsen’s fluency of the isiXhosa language is a prism through which we can peer to see the intimacy which his work led him to share with all peoples of the world. His work took him to far-flung places such as Mt Ayliff Hospital in the largely rural Eastern Cape.
Here the unique closeness of the practice of medicine meant that he was also imbibing the richness of diverse cultures and sharing in the cares and aspirations of people from all walks of life.
Prof Fehrsen’s family will donate the prize money of R50 000 to the Ian Murray Fund, an organization which facilitates work amongst medical students like bus trips to rural hospitals.